New alternate Xcel Energy plan removes gas power plant, adds clean renewable energy

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Clean Energy Organizations applaud changes in utility company’s latest proposal 

Joint statement from Fresh Energy, Clean Grid Alliance, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and Union of Concerned Scientists

An alternate long-range energy plan filed Friday by Xcel Energy removes a proposed gas power plant and adds significant renewable energy, reflecting a welcome and necessary realignment with the utility company’s promise to achieve a carbon-free electric system by 2050.

Most notable in the updated proposal, filed as part of reply comments in the long-term energy plan known as an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), is the absence of the Sherco gas-fired power plant. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Fresh Energy, Clean Grid Alliance, and the Union of Concerned Scientists – collectively the Clean Energy Organizations (CEO) – applaud Xcel’s decision to bring forward an alternative to the new combined-cycle gas plant proposed in its previously filed IRP, especially one that includes significant new investments in wind and solar.  CEO’s modeling, using the same software as Xcel, shows that the Sherco plant is unnecessary, unaffordable and contradictory to the company’s own data and modeling, the latest science on climate change, and Xcel’s carbon-reduction goals.

The CEOs are also encouraged and excited about new investments in clean energy included in the proposal, reflecting Xcel’s commitment and ability to be an industry leader on climate change. Not only is the new long-range plan hundreds of millions less expensive for ratepayers, it would cut carbon emissions 86 percent by 2030, up from 80 percent in the original proposal. It also includes a new and innovative transmission “extension cord” line that would connect Xcel’s existing grid infrastructure to southwest Minnesota, unlocking thousands of megawatts of renewable energy from the richest renewable energy region in the state that would otherwise have no available transmission capacity.

While the new proposal is undoubtedly a significant improvement from Xcel’s earlier IRP, our CEOs look forward to taking a closer look at the plan and digging into the data and details in the coming weeks. We want to see if data and modeling shows that other components of the proposal – such as the construction of two smaller peaker power plants that will run only occasionally – are truly necessary or whether alternative, carbon-free solutions are available. If you’re an Xcel customer, we encourage you to use the box to the right to tell Xcel to strongly consider all alternatives to new fossil fuel infrastructure like the peaker plants.

We appreciate Xcel’s willingness to respond to Minnesota and the nation’s imperative to get to 100 percent clean energy sooner, while minimizing fossil fuels. CEOs drafted our own alternative energy plan — which we filed with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in February — that indicates Minnesota’s energy sector can and should be even more robustly supported by renewables in the future. 

Investor-owned utilities in Minnesota are required by law to submit plans every two years to the PUC that outline how they aim to meet their energy demands for the next 15 years. Xcel filed its first IRP back in 2019, and while it includes important strides toward a cleaner grid —  notably Xcel’s announcement to retire its two remaining coal-fired plants – its inclusion of a new $2 billion gas-fired power plant to be built in Sherco does not make sense in 2021.    

We are delighted to see Xcel take bold action to move more quickly to a carbon-free electricity system,” stated Ellen Anderson, Climate Program Director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “Xcel’s new plan omits the large gas power plant, and chooses lower cost, lower carbon alternatives that will accelerate renewable energy and help us meet the need for immediate climate action.”

“We applaud Xcel Energy putting forward an innovative solution that utilizes significant amounts of new wind, solar and transmission rather than a very large and risky new fossil gas plant,” said Allen Gleckner, Lead Director, Clean Electricity at Fresh Energy. “Creatively leveraging existing grid connections along with some of the Upper Midwest’s best wind and solar resources is a responsible way to both help Minnesota meet its climate goals and keep costs down for customers.”

“Clean Grid Alliance commends Xcel Energy for taking the next steps on infrastructure needed to add new renewables and particularly unlocking additional wind energy in the western MISO footprint,” said Clean Grid Alliance Executive Director Beth Soholt. “The wind resources are extremely cost effective for ratepayers and provide many benefits for local communities, landowners, and workers in Minnesota. The additional transmission capacity is a much-needed outlet for the outstanding wind resources available in the Midwest.”

“The climate and customers’ wallets will benefit from Xcel’s new proposal,” said James Gignac, senior Midwest energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Xcel should be commended for its efforts to identify cleaner and more cost-effective solutions. Minnesotans deserve healthier air and a safer energy system.”

Amid the worsening climate crisis, state and federal leaders have made critical promises to drastically cut carbon emissions to head off the worst impacts of climate change. To meet these urgent goals, all sectors of society, and especially the energy industry, cannot continue to invest in old ways of doing business that we now know have catastrophic consequences for the livability of our planet. 

CEOs hope other companies follow Xcel’s lead and accelerate work to transition to a carbon-free future.